Posts Tagged ‘Hush Money’

Cry U.N.C.L.E.

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. 2015

I was a junior and then senior in high school in 1964, when Beatlemania hit, and I was as caught up in it as anybody. The recent anniversary of their Shea Stadium concert got a lot of nostalgic talk going, particularly on oldies radio. (Not that someone as hip and culturally relevant as me listens to such a thing.) What hardly anybody discusses, though, is where the concurrent spy craze fit in.

Of course, James Bond – his anti-Beatles remark in the otherwise great GOLDFINGER a rare tin-ear moment from the filmmakers – was a big part of the British invasion. The success of the first few Bond films meant imitations were inevitable, and lots of spy stuff hit the screens, some of it more straight like THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD and THE IPCRESS FILE, but a lot of it crapola like the Dean Martin “Matt Helm” abominations.

A ton of the imitations came out of Europe, particularly Italy, and those mostly terrible movies – for which I have an inexplicable fondness – are now lumped together as the Euro-Spy genre. The two OSS 117 parodies of recent years were takes on Bond, yes, but also on the straight OSS 117 movies from the ‘60s based on a long-running novel series that actually pre-dated James Bond. Some of these are among the best Bond imitations – SHADOW OF EVIL, MISSION FOR A KILLER, PANIC IN BANGKOK. (These are either unavailable in the USA or available only gray-market and/or pan-and-scan form. Check out Amazon France for better copies, most of which have English subtitles.)

But in Iowa in 1964, only the really mainstream spy movies made it here (again, the Dean Martin junk, and the very good Harry Palmers with Michael Caine) and that was true for a lot of the country. Buffs for this stuff wouldn’t see the Euro-spy movies until they hit TV a decade or two later in butchered, horrendously dubbed format, or in the last few years as DVDs and Blu-rays, often with wide-screen images intact and English subtitles. I particularly like the Joe Walker/KOMMISAR X series from Italy, but there’s no excuse for it.

Meanwhile, back in ‘64, television stepped in to feed a spy craze that couldn’t breathe on one Bond film a year and occasional double-feature double-oh-seven re-releases. So a number of spy series hit the small screen, most prominently THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (co-created by Ian Fleming, a fairly little known fact) and I SPY. I’ve revisited both series in the last several years, and neither holds up very well. Of course, I SPY is now on the pop-cultural scrap heap, thanks to Bill Cosby’s little hobby.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was always spotty. A few years ago, working my way through the show in a spy’s briefcase, I knew I was in trouble when late in the first season – generally considered to be the best – an episode written by the great Robert Towne blew chunks. But at the time, the show was a very big deal. The first episode was expanded, shown in color (the pilot had been shot that way but the first season was otherwise in black-and-white, and the pilot aired that way), and some new violent, sexy scenes were inserted. Also a big scene with David McCullum, who was a non-entity in the pilot but had Spock-like popularity with viewers that got him the second lead, very quickly. This cunning patchwork was titled TO TRAP A SPY and was released theatrically to some success. There were seven more of these recycled MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. movies, mostly utilizing TV two-parters, although only the first two did well, and several went overseas with no stateside theatrical release. They are available as a set on DVD from Warner Archive.

Though Bond was obviously immune, the spy craze died quickly, particularly on TV. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., in its third season, went campy, following the lead of the new craze, the Adam West/Burt Ward BATMAN. Everybody hated this version of U.N.C.L.E., and the next half-season (they were cancelled midway) went back to more straight fare, too late. I SPY lasted three seasons. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, thanks to great music and a cool premise, out-lived every other espionage show of the era.

What most Baby Boomers remember about THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (and U.N.C.L.E. was not Uncle Sam, but an organization that seemed vaguely tied to the U.N. for worldwide law-enforcement) (no, I won’t spell out the acronym) are Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo (a name Fleming contributed) and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin. The latter with his Beatle-esque haircut and understated Russian accent was a big pop-cultural deal. Vaughn, smooth and unruffled and impeccably attired, was arguably the best secret agent of the craze but for Bond himself.

So you’re waiting for me to slam the new movie, I suppose. Well, I’m not going to because it’s terrific. Director-co-writer Guy Ritchie has made a sly, darkly funny film that invokes not just the series but Bond and the entire spy craze era, with the look of the film drawing heavily upon the Harry Palmer trio. The twisty script is sexy and clever and occasionally scary. The music is witty and mixes zither exoticism out of FUNERAL IN BERLIN with Ennio Morricone cues, during which the direction takes an overtly Serio Leone take. The leads are fine, Armie Hammer redeeming his LONE RANGER travesty with a Kuryakin reworked into a volatile near psychotic, while Henry Clavill channels Robert Vaughn. It was this near impression – revealing the actor had really studied the series – that won me over early on. Clavill has Vaughn’s cadence and cool, as well as the dimple in his chin.

It’s an origin story, and U.N.C.L.E. itself is barely introduced at the end, though charmingly so, Hugh Grant nailing the spy agency’s boss, Alexander Waverly (the great Leo G. Carroll on the TV series). It sets up a series of films that probably won’t happen. Unfortunately.

Something this smart and witty may not work on the current generation, who won’t get the references and will wonder why every scene isn’t an action one, like the latest video game or the new MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. Now I liked the Tom Cruise film, found it great fun, but it’s just one Cruise action set piece after another linked by clumsy expository scenes and winning comedy relief from Simon Pegg. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. won’t be everybody’s cup of spy, but it’s my favorite film of the summer.

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Here’s a knock-out of a review of KING OF THE WEEDS from the Crime Review site.

And my 1981 Nolan novel, HUSH MONEY, made number two on the best reads of the month at Col’s Criminal Library.

M.A.C.

Go Sell A Watchman

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015
Go Set A Watchman

I have read around 100 pages of Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN, and frankly don’t know if I’ll get any farther in it.

The writing certainly has at least occasional flair, though the use of point of view isn’t to my liking – suddenly jumping into another character’s POV for a while, and then back again, is an amateur ploy. The secondary characters aren’t particularly compelling, and the dialogue is often precious. But what’s really wrong with the novel is that it has no discernible plot. Unlike its famous predecessor, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (like I had to tell you), there’s no murder trial to provide an engine to the small-town nostalgia set pieces.

MOCKINGBIRD is not a particular favorite of mine. I read it when it came out, in my youth, and have seen the fine film version a couple of times. But it’s not a novel that resonated with me so deeply that I named a child “Atticus” much less became expert in the prose style of its one-hit wonder author.

Mickey Spillane used to cite Lee and Margaret Mitchell as examples of “authors,” when explaining the difference between authors and writers, considering himself a prime example of the latter. An author wrote a book or two, a writer made a living at it and produced a shelf of work.

I take special interest in WATCHMAN because of my role as Mickey’s literary executor. I’m frankly surprised that there’s been as little fuss over just how much material Mickey left behind and just how much of it I’ve prepared for publication. But I do have a special context for seeing how reviewers and commentators have responded to WATCHMAN.

First of all, most of what has been written about the novel has been nonsense. Few have reviewed it on its own terms (the only way to review a novel properly). Many have speculated about whether or not Harper Lee truly gave permission for this early work to be published (though she clearly has). Many talk about the publishing industry in ways that reveal they know nothing about how publishing works, much less novel writing.

The biggest piece of misinformation is that WATCHMAN is a rough draft of MOCKINGBIRD. No. Not even close. It’s a different book about the more famous novel’s principal characters, set twenty years later. Its theme is finding out a beloved parent has feet of clay, and that’s valid enough. WATCHMAN has also been called a sequel or even a prequel. Here we’re getting warmer.

MOCKINGBIRD is the prequel to WATCHMAN. Some sources indicate that Lee and her publisher intended WATCHMAN to be published (and presumably somewhat rewritten) as the third book in a trilogy about these characters. Whether any real work was done on book two, and what that book would have been, is currently withheld. My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that Lee is one of those writers whose initial success sent her spiraling into a life-long writer’s block. Or in Mickey’s terms, an author’s block….

People seem terribly confused that the second book chronologically was written first. But writers (and even authors) know that’s ridiculous – that books in a series or saga can be written in whatever order the writer damn well chooses. My novels STOLEN AWAY and DAMNED IN PARADISE are chronologically the first in the Nathan Heller series; but they were published (and written) as books five and eight respectively.

On the other hand, WATCHMAN should have received a polish that brought it more in line with MOCKINGBIRD (there’s a major inconsistency about the murder trial in MOCKINGBIRD when referenced in WATCHMAN, for example). But the editors were too intimidated by Lee’s reputation to fix such things, and she is apparently not in any shape to do any writing or even editing herself (or if she is, isn’t interested).

Should the book have been published? Many say no. I say, “Hell, yes.” So far I don’t particularly care for the thing, but Harper Lee is a major author, and this is a second book about the famous characters in MOCKINGBIRD, and it makes a very interesting point about putting parents on pedestals.

But the book is a flawed, early work, apparently intended originally for revision so that it could be published after MOCKINGBIRD. So the bestseller approach that Harper (the publisher, not the author) has taken can be seen as at best inappropriate and at worst sleazy.

WATCHMAN deserved a publication that was more respectful of its history and the state it’s in – a scholarly introduction or after word, for example, to explain the context and the importance of the work, however flawed. To present it as just the “new” Harper Lee novel seems designed to make a lot of money while alienating the very readers who are pumping that money in.

Presented as more of an historical artifact, WATCHMAN still would have sold very well, and it would have received a more fair judgment by the public, the press and reviewers.

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The Hon Company in my hometown of Muscatine, Iowa, is a very successful office-furniture manufacturer. My Dad worked for them for many decades, and I think he would have been proud of my appearance on this Hon-distributed piece on “7 Facts About Muscatine.”

There’s a Nate Heller story in the new anthology, CHICAGO NOIR, which recently got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Here’s a nice review of the Nolan novel, HUSH MONEY.

And here’s a nice bit about the “Nat” Heller novels.

M.A.C.

New Edition Nolan Trade Paperbacks 20% Off

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

To celebrate the new editions of heist artist Nolan’s adventures, Perfect Crime Books is offering a 20% discount through the end of May when ordering straight from the printer’s secure store at createspace.com. Each book comes with a new introduction from Max (aside from Mourn the Living, which includes the intro from the Five Star Press run). For me, shipping on one book came out to be around $3.50, and was only a couple dollars more for an order of all six, so the deal is better the more you buy.

Click on the covers below and enter the following code at checkout:

LX2E2WBF

For the maxallancollins.com book pages:
Fly Paper | Hush Money | Hard Cash | Scratch Fever | Spree | Mourn the Living